Invisible danger lurking in Aussie kitchens

·News Reporter
·4-min read

A report claims the classroom and home could be far more hazardous to children’s health than first thought.

The report, published by the Sydney-based Climate Council, claims burning gas at home and at school can harm children’s health.

“Cooking with gas is estimated to be responsible for up to 12 per cent of the burden of childhood asthma in Australia,” the report reads.

It also compared the impact of gas cooking on asthma sufferers at home to household smoking.

The report also claimed schools in NSW “still use gas heaters indoors that release the products of combustion directly into the classroom”.

A girl uses an asthma puffer.
The report claims the use of gas in homes and classrooms is exposing children to the risks of asthma. Source: Getty

It referred to a case study from 2010 conducted by Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and commissioned by the NSW Government.

It compared the respiratory health effects of nitrogen oxide unflued gas heaters with flued gas heaters.

An unflued gas heater is one which doesn’t vent pollutants outside with the potential to cause indoor air pollution.

“The study found that exposure to the unflued heaters was associated with increased respiratory symptoms (cough and wheeze) in atopic children (that is, those with a predisposition to allergic reactions, including asthma), and concluded that ‘it is important to seek alternative sources of heating that do not have adverse effects on health’,” the report reads.

“Around 50,000 unflued gas heaters were in use in schools across NSW at the time of this study.”

Kids in a classroom raise their hands.
There are fears classroom heaters could be putting children at risk. Source: Getty

The Climate Council’s report claims the 2010 study saw 102 of NSW’s schools replace their unflued gas heaters but this was overturned in 2011.

“The review claimed that the health benefits to students did not justify the cost of replacement, and suggested alternative solutions including that students wear warmer clothing,” the report reads.

“The Government determined that it would only replace unflued gas heaters when the majority of heaters in a school had reached the end of their life, and that only flued gas heaters would be fitted in new school buildings from 2012. It also advised that when unflued heaters are in use, windows be opened to help with ventilation.”

Some however have been removed and replaced with air conditioning as part of the government’s “Cooler Classrooms” program.

The report claims unflued gas heaters aren’t used in classrooms in other states.

A graphic shows a number of different heaters.
The different between unflued heaters and other gas heaters. Source: Climate Council

Fears for asthmatic children

Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman said we should be doing “everything possible” to improve health incomes for children.

"Some people will be shocked to learn that cooking dinner on a gas stove could be contributing to their child's asthma symptoms, we need education to improve awareness for indoor air pollution,” she said.

“People can take steps to reduce their risk by increasing ventilation, such as modern extraction fans over gas stoves, flues for gas heaters, and simple measures like opening windows. However, this won't eliminate the risk completely.”

Report author Dr Kate Charlesworth added the heaters also fuel climate change.

“Just as doctors spoke up on the dangers of asbestos and tobacco in the past, we have a responsibility now to sound the alarm on the dangers of gas,” Dr Charlesworth said.

“Governments can take simple, practical steps to protect Australians’ health, such as ending mandatory gas connections for new residential developments – as in the ACT – and offering incentives to people to replace gas appliances with electrical alternatives.

“Australians who switch from gas to efficient electric appliances will save money, protect their family and improve the health and wellbeing of our communities.”

Report's heater claim 'false'

A School Infrastructure NSW spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia in 2009, Public Works Advisory removed hi NOx heaters from public schools or replaced hi NOx burners with lo NOx in classrooms.

"To suggest classrooms in NSW are dangerous due to heaters is false," the spokesperson said.

"Fear for their children’s safety should not be exploited to convince parents of the merits of reducing gas use."

They added the majority of schools used heaters with unflued heaters converted to "lo NOx or replaced entirely". 

"Health studies show they are safe. It is disappointing that the findings of these studies appears not to have been considered in this report," they said.

"School Infrastructure NSW has been replacing gas heaters with more efficient heating and cooling systems. Since July last year alone, 2,000 unflued gas heaters have been removed.

"The Department of Education inspects the performance of all gas heaters annually to ensure they operate to the required performance and safety standards. A review of the department’s incident report logs has not identified any student health issues caused by unflued heaters in classrooms over the past three years."

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